In 1970, 20-year-old Linda Lovelace (Amanda Seyfried) is living with her overbearing parents in Davie, Florida. While out dancing one night with her best friend, Patsy (Juno Temple), she attracts the attention of Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard), and the two soon develop a serious relationship. He is much older than her and begins teaching her how to perform sexual acts, which she is initially thrilled about. After breaking a curfew one night, Linda is slapped by her mother (Sharon Stone), so she decides to move out and live with Chuck, later marrying him. During a party, Linda watches one of Chuck's homemade porno films for the first time and tells him that good girls like her do not do stuff like that.
Six months later, Linda bails Chuck out of jail for soliciting prostitution, which he refuses to talk about with her. Desperate for money, he later persuades Linda to become a pornographic film actress and she soon begins working on the film Deep Throat, where she first uses her stage name, Linda Lovelace. The movie becomes a huge hit, raking in over $30,000 at the box office in its first week. After it becomes a worldwide phenomenon, Linda is interviewed by a variety of print and radio reporters and becomes the subject of late night television humor, much to the disgrace of her estranged parents. Her life is seen as exciting and glamorous: she poses nude for photoshoots and attends swanky parties weekly. During a private screening in Los Angeles, Hugh Hefner (James Franco) convinces Linda that she has the potential to be more than a porn actress.
In the second version of events, Chuck's violent nature is gradually exposed and Linda's life is revealed not to be as perfect as it seems. He chokes Linda during sex and refuses to stop when she asks, claiming it to be "passion", and forces her into prostitution at gunpoint. Linda visits her parents to ask if she can move back for a while after she reveals that Chuck has been hitting her, but her mom says no, tells her to go home and be a good wife, since she must have done something to deserve his abuse. It appears that Linda no longer loves him like earlier but has no other choice. After Chuck learns that Linda has been discussing a new salary with the movie's director, Gerard Damiano (Hank Azaria) without telling him, he punishes her by making her shower in freezing water.
When Deep Throat becomes a hit, Chuck tries to persuade Linda to do another porn film but she refuses. He then takes her to a party and forces Linda to participate in a gang bang at a hotel, again at gunpoint, for the money instead. She attempts to escape from him that night but he catches her and ends up sleeping on top of her so she cannot try again during the night. The following day, she secretly meets up with Anthony Romano (Chris Noth) and tells him she wants out of the porno business, revealing the facial bruises and cuts inflicted by Chuck. Disgusted, Romano has her checked into a private hotel while he and his bodyguards whip Chuck for abusing Linda and for the $25,000 he owes.
Six years later, following her divorce from Chuck, Linda marries Larry Marchiano, moves to Long Island and has a son by him. She later takes a polygraph test before publishing her autobiography Ordeal, which details years of Chuck physically and sexually abusing her, as well as taking all of her earnings. Linda appears on Donahue, with her distraught parents breaking down in tears while watching her on TV. A few days later, the Marchianos travel to Florida for Linda to reconcile with her parents.
Closing captions reveal that while Deep Throat made over $600 million worldwide, Linda only earned $1,250 because Chuck controlled the money like he controlled everything. Ordeal went on to sell out three printings and, for 20 years, Linda spoke out against pornography and domestic violence. Chuck later went on to marry Marilyn Chambers, another porn actress. Linda died at age 53 from injuries sustained in a car accident in 2002 and Chuck suffered a fatal heart attack three months later.
In January 2011, pregnant Kate Hudson was offered the part of Linda Lovelace while James Franco was in talks to portray Lovelace's husband Chuck Traynor. The production of the film was planned to begin after the birth of Hudson's child and as of April 2011, the actress was still involved in the project. However, on November 1, 2011, Amanda Seyfried and Peter Sarsgaard were reported to be in discussions to play Lovelace and Traynor. Sharon Stone announced on November 16, 2011 that she would play Lovelace's mother. In December 2011, Juno Temple and Wes Bentley were cast as Lovelace's best friend and Larry Marchiano, her second husband.
In December 2011, Franco received the part of Hugh Hefner. Robert Patrick, Hank Azaria, Chris Noth, and Bobby Cannavale landed the respective roles of John Boreman (Lovelace's father), Jerry Damiano, Anthony Romano and Butchie Peraino. On January 2, 2012, Adam Brody and Eric Roberts were cast as Harry Reems and Nat Laurendi, while Demi Moore agreed to a cameo appearance as Gloria Steinem. A few weeks later she dropped out of the film for personal issues and was replaced by Sarah Jessica Parker. However, Parker's cameo was ultimately deleted. Cory Hardrict and Debi Mazar play Frankie Crocker and Dolly Sharp. Chloë Sevigny plays a feminist journalist.
To prepare for the role, Seyfried read Lovelace's books and studied videos of her speaking. She also watched the film Deep Throat and underwent a New York accent training. Seyfried said of Lovelace: "She was such a different person than what we expect. It’s a good story to tell, and I’m really, really excited about it." Brody prepared for the role of Reems by watching his interviews. He told that "the arrest and indictment of Reems on federal charges of conspiracy to distribute obscenity across state lines" are not shown in the film. He described as "brotherly" the relationship Reems shares with Deep Throat co-star Lovelace, explaining that "he was the antithesis of her husband [Traynor]".
The Hollywood Reporter reported on January 13, 2012 that filming had already begun in Los Angeles. A few days later, photographs of Amanda Seyfried as Linda Lovelace on a film set were published. Scenes were shot in Glendale, California. Filming wrapped in February 2012.
During the filming, the cooperation between Seyfried and Sarsgaard went so well that she called him with hindsight "the best actor I've ever worked with".
Sarah Jessica Parker's scenes did not make it into the final version due to the time setting for the end of the film being originally planned to be 1984, but was changed to 1980, which was before Gloria Steinem first got involved with Linda Lovelace, during the editing. As a result, the role of Gloria Steinem became unnecessary.
The film premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival on January 22, 2013. The film was released in the United States on August 9, 2013.
Lovelace was met with mixed reviews. According to Rotten Tomatoes, 54% of critics have given the film a positive review, based on 119 reviews. The site's consensus states: "Amanda Seyfried and Peter Sarsgaard do their best with the material, but Lovelace lacks enough depth and conviction to truly do its fascinating subject justice." The film also has a Metacritic score of 51 out of 100, based on 37 reviews. Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter wrote the film was "smartly done". Richard Roeper gave the film a B+, commenting that it "never really feels triumphant or inspirational. It's very well-made and well-acted, but it's a reminder that the most famous porn star of the most famous porn movie ever made was a victim through and through." On the other hand, Variety's Rob Nelson complained the true story behind the film had been simplified to a "series of cartoonish vignettes". Amanda Mae Meyncke endorsed Seyfried's portrayal as "excellent" but considered the film all in all only "mediocre".
Doubts were also raised as to the historical accuracy of the film's narrative. In particular, Gerard Damiano Jr., son of the director of Deep Throat, and Eric Danville, Linda Lovelace's biographer, spoke to The Rialto Report about how the film conflated spousal abuse with the treatment of actors in the adult film industry.
The soundtrack to Lovelace was released on September 9, 2013.